The history of art is a history of artistic breakthroughs. Consider these significant achievements:
- Scientific perspective
- Oil painting, and then acrylics
- Abstraction (Gasp! Art doesn’t have to be a window on the world?)
- Collage (Huh? Glue paper on top of paper??)
- Constructed sculpture (rather than carved or modeled)
My first artistic breakthrough came in 1974 when I rendered a blue jay and cardinal in oil pastel. I’m an artist, I thought.
I wasn’t looking for a breakthrough. I didn’t even know what one was at that young age. I was just trying to make a pretty picture that my grandmother would like.
I had another breakthrough in college when I realized that I liked my art history classes better than my painting classes. Again, I wasn’t looking for a breakthrough or to change my major. I was merely trying to make it through another semester.
My biggest breakthrough came in 2001-02 when I listened to artists who were looking for help with their careers. I could never have imagined this line of work that has been so rewarding.
What Needs to Break?
The dictionary defines a breakthrough as …
… any significant or sudden advance, development, achievement, or increase, as in scientific knowledge or diplomacy, that removes a barrier to progress.
I might emphasize the words significant, sudden, and removes a barrier.
“Breakthrough” implies that something has to be destroyed so that something new can be created.
If you are looking for a breakthrough in your art-making, your art career, or in your life, consider these possibilities:
- Do you need to break any bad habits that prevent progress?
- Do you need to break patterns of action (or inaction) that aren’t serving you?
- Do you need to break clean from any negativity you’re feeling about yourself, resentment toward others, or pessimism about your future so that you wake up each day happy to be an artist and to be alive?
Be Open to Change
Breakthroughs are earned, but they rarely happen when you’re looking for them.
It's impossible to time your breakthrough: I think I'll have a breakthrough tomorrow. Nope. It doesn’t work that way.
Though it might be possible to sense one ahead: I feel like I'm working on something big. I'm not sure what it is yet, but I'm excited about the prospects.
Breakthroughs happen as a result of doing the work and being present during the process. And you must be open to change. Keep working and stay open so that you can make necessary adjustments when your breakthrough strikes.
Consider the following breakthroughs that ignited change.
Picasso had a breakthrough when he first came across African art.
Helen Frankenthaler’s breakthrough came after a trip to Nova Scotia, where she had painted numerous watercolors of the rocky seascape. Upon returning to New York, she spread her canvas on the floor and applied paint diluted with turpentine.
Faith Ringgold was looking into shipping her art when she realized that if she just painted on fabric, without the support, she could roll it up and easily ship it in a tube.
Evan Sturm attended Art Biz Breakthrough last year and discovered that his hotel was less than one mile from the very shipping company he needed to get his handcrafted furniture across the country. Boom! Breakthrough!
Share a story about a breakthrough you’ve had in a comment below. What had to break in order for that to happen?
What needs to break in order to make big progress in an area where you feel stuck?